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2014-07-28 8:22 pm

Marion Berry's House Member Office (D-AR-01) posted a Blog Post on July 28, 2014 | 8:22 pm - Original Item - Comments (View)

President Obama: "If you're a strong man, you should not feel threatened by strong women."

Barack Obama's White House Presidential Office (D) posted a Video (YouTube) on July 28, 2014 | 8:11 pm - Original Item - Comments (View)
President Obama participated at a Young African Leaders Presidential Summit Town Hall in Washington, D.C., July 28, 2014.
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Time: 07:34 More in News & Politics

Secretary's Remarks: Remarks at the Center for American Progress' India: 2020 Program

Hillary Clinton's State Department Office (D) posted a Press Release on July 28, 2014 | 7:56 pm - Original Item - Comments (View)

Remarks at the Center for American Progress' India: 2020 Program


Remarks
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Center for American Progress
Washington, DC
July 28, 2014


Neera, thank you very, very much. Thank you for confirming to me your mother’s fealty. (Laughter.) I’m deeply appreciative for her support through the years and I’m sorry we lost you when you were 18, but I’m glad you wound up here, as is everybody else. We’re delighted that you’re here.

It’s a privilege for me to be back at the Center for American Progress, and I am very, very apologetic for the delay. I know I’ve kept you all from your appointed rounds and I apologize for that. It’s good to get the telephone unglued for a few minutes here. Obviously, we are still working hard at trying to deal with the issue of the crisis in the Middle East. I spoke to it a little earlier today, so I’m not going to repeat what I said, except to say to all of you that we want to be able to find a way to get to a table to discuss the underlying issues which are real and impactful on everybody and on the region. And we hope to be able to find the magic formula by which the violence could cease for a long enough period of time to try to find that sustainable ceasefire which could allow you to move on from there. The region has known violence for far too long. Too many innocent people caught in the crossfire, too many lives ruptured, and so it is imperative for all of us in positions of responsibility to do everything we can to try to find a diplomatic way, a peaceful way forward if possible.

It is a privilege for me to be back here at the Center for American Progress. Ambassador Sandhu, thank you for being here representing the Embassy, the DCM here, all of our ex-ambassadors and ex-assistant secretaries of Defense and otherwise – greatly appreciative for their supports and efforts to advance the very crucial relationship between the United States and India. And at a time when so many people are – you know, back in history when they were looking for a lot of simple slogans and silver bullets to cure an immediate problem, which was pretty basic, that the Democratic Party was out of the White House and sidelined in the minority in both the House and the Senate – that’s when a guy named John Podesta stood up and was determined to get past the day-to-day ups and downs of the Washington echo chamber, and helped to shape a principled and progressive policy agenda for governing.

John knew then what he practices now in the White House for President Obama: Good policy is good politics. So – excuse me, let me get rid of my flight here – good policy really does make good politics. I always found that and I’ve always tried to practice that. Under Neera Tanden’s leadership for the last couple years, CAP has continued to prove that good ideas are still the most important currency in our political debate. And that is a principle that has also guided CAP’s work on foreign policy, especially in convening Track II, the first intensive climate change dialogue between the United States and India.

India 2020 builds on that success by showing how the United States and India together can tackle global challenges, from security in the Asia Pacific to providing clean energy to delivering more inclusive growth. And Vikram Singh and Rich Verma are going to help lead us together on that, bringing some of the best minds together in terms of policy and politics, and I thank you very, very much for your contribution. Rich and Vikram, thank you for what you’re undertaking. It is really a dialogue about what is in most people’s currency but not always yet fully blossomed, one of the most important relationships internationally.

Now I just got back, as I think you all know, from a pretty intensive trip to Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, and to Europe, working to try to find an end to the violence that has threatened our ally Israel, and which has also cost hundreds of innocent lives in Gaza and elsewhere. The fact is that we were able to produce at least the beginnings of a ceasefire process, a 12-hour ceasefire, then confusion over 4 hours and 12 hours. But the bottom line is the concept of that, I think, is still appreciated by all, and the key now is to find the road, not the question of what.

Now there are some in America who question America’s efforts actually not just in America. There’s some people who ask this elsewhere. But particularly here, they question about our efforts to bring peace to various conflicts around the world. I think they ought to ask: What’s the alternative? Make no mistake, when the people of Israel are rushing to bomb shelters, when innocent Israeli and Palestinian teenagers are abducted and murdered, when hundreds of innocent civilians have lost their lives, I will and we will make no apologies for our engagement.

Ungoverned spaces threaten us all. Instability threatens us all. And upholding the rule of law and humanitarian standards are not only national security imperatives; they are the right thing to do. This is who we are and this is what we do. And frankly, I think it is what we do with greater gusto, with greater grounding, if you will, in international rule of law and structure, than almost – almost any other country.

But I want to be very clear about something, and that’s why I’m here today: Even as we focus on crises and flashpoints that dominate the daily headlines and govern the cable talk shows and so forth, even as that happens and they demand our leadership, we will always act with long-term strategic imperatives foremost in our mind, and that’s why we’re here today. You can go to any capital in the world and you can find different nuanced and self-assured perspectives about American foreign policy. But if you were lucky enough to have the top hundred foreign policy thinkers sit in a room together and you asked them to name the most important relationships for which the United States, with that relationship, will most affect the direction of the 21st century, I can guarantee you this: Every single one of them would rank the U.S.-India relationship right up there in the top tier.

So I want to emphasize the key relationship for the United States – one of the key relationships for the United States in that context is the deepening relationship with India, and particularly trying to deepen our ties with India in terms of our strategic imperatives, both of us. It doesn’t matter just to us or to India; it actually matters to the world. And that’s why, in my first months as Secretary of State, I went to India. And it’s no coincidence that at the time, I – that in Prime Minister Modi’s first 100 days in his government, I’m now returning to Delhi for two days of Strategic Dialogue and discussion. And it was no accident that in the intervening time, we’ve had many discussions and meetings and the prime minister – former Prime Minister Singh, came here to the White House during that period of time.

But then, of course, they had an election. And as everybody knows, from certain number of months during an election, things tend to be put on hold. Now is the time to renew that dialogue with a new government, with a new set of opportunities, new possibilities. This is a potentially transformative moment in our partnership with India, and we’re determined to deliver on the strategic and historic opportunities that we can create together.

In a globalized world, we recognize that yes, India’s going to have many different partners. That’s the nature of the world we’re in today. But we believe there are unique opportunities for just United States and India, and that the dynamism and the entrepreneurial spirit of Mumbai and Bangalore, of Silicon Valley and of Boston – that is precisely what is required in order to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges.

President Obama is absolutely right to call this a defining partnership for the 21st century. India’s new government has won an historic mandate to deliver change and reform. And together, we have a singular opportunity to help India to be able to meet that challenge – to boost two-way trade, to drive South Asia’s connectivity, to develop cleaner energy, to deepen our security partnership in the Asia Pacific and beyond. The United States and India can and should be indispensable partners for the 21st century, and that is, I assure you, the way we approach the Modi government and the way we view this particular time. This week, Secretary Pritzker and I will be emphasizing those opportunities as we meet leaders of India’s new government.

Now we face, as we all know – and Neera talked about it, and it is true – this is a particularly challenging moment. Forces that were pent up for years in the Cold War tampened down by dictatorship and absence of freedom to speak have suddenly been released everywhere, and everywhere everybody is in touch with everybody all the time. It changes the face of politics profoundly everywhere. People have more information, more ability to organize, more ability to talk to each other. So we do face a host of critical challenges together and we face a world in which more young people more rapidly are demanding more from their governments with too many places where there’s too little response. And that is a challenge for all governance, none more so than what we do to link our economies, India and the United States, in order to further our shared prosperity agenda.

What we do to strengthen global security and a rules-based international system, how we turn the challenges of climate change into an opportunity for greater cooperation and economic growth – these are the big challenges. These are opportunities for us. Our countries have had a decades-long relationship, and I can personally remember the lingering sense of suspicion and distrust when I first went to India at the end of the Cold War. I traveled to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore with executives from companies like Raytheon and Nextel, companies that are doing booming business in India today. I remember talking to then-Finance Minister Singh about the reforms that were needed and the opening up of the economy and the ability to be able to attract capital and have rules that made sense to everybody that we all understood. I remember that back then, and I felt then the possibility of the enormous potential of a closer, stronger partnership.

And now, it’s not hard to see how in this moment, we can actually deliver on that partnership’s full promise. The new Indian Government’s plan, “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”, together with all, development for all – that’s a concept, a vision that we want to support. We believe it’s a great vision, and our private sector is eager to be a catalyst in India’s economic revitalization. American companies lead in exactly the key sectors where India wants to grow: in high-end manufacturing, in infrastructure, in healthcare, information technology, all of them vital to sort of leapfrogging stages of development so you can provide more faster to more people

India also wants to build a more competitive workforce, and already 100,000 Indians study each year in American universities. But America’s community colleges actually set a remarkable standard for 21st century skills training. We should be expanding our educational ties across the board, increasing opportunities for young people in both of our nations. I know Prime Minister Modi drew from that energy of India’s youth during his campaign. He repeatedly pointed out that while India’s one of the world’s oldest civilizations, it has the world’s youngest population. Prime Minister Modi has said that young people have a natural instinct to rise like a flame. And he has spoken about India’s duty to nurture that instinct, and we believe, frankly, that’s a duty for both of our nations.

And that means strengthening the exchange in technical education, in vocational programs for high-skilled trades, and especially in areas where we can build on the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit of both of our nations. And we all know about the extraordinary work ethic that people in India have and the capacity to be able to do this and seize this opportunity. One of the marked contrasts of this moment is this juxtaposition to parts of the world where young people demanded a participation in this world they see around them, and rose up against leadership that had stultified over the course of years, decades even – Tunisia, Egypt, Syria. They all began without one flake of religious extremism involved in the revolutions that brought change. It was all about young people gathering and forcing the notion that they wanted something more to life. They wanted opportunity, education, respect, dignity, jobs, a future.


So this possibility I’ve just defined between India and the United States, which fits very neatly into Prime Minister Modi’s vision that he expressed in a campaign which was ratified overwhelmingly by the people of his country is exactly the vision that we need to embrace now, and that’s why this opportunity is actually so ripe. This area of cooperation is particularly exciting, I think, and I’m particularly confident about these opportunities, because only countries that reward creativity the way the United States and India do could have possibly launched Hollywood and Bollywood. (Laughter.) Only countries that celebrate the entrepreneur the way we do could have launched Silicon Valley and Bangalore as global epicenters for innovation.

Innovation and entrepreneurship are in both of our DNA, and they not only make us natural partners; they give us natural advantages in a world that demands adaptability and resilience. The United States and India cannot afford to just sort of sit back and rest on these currently existing advantages. We have to build on them and we have to build on them by investing more in one another. Now unlike some other nations, the United States cannot direct a private corporation to go invest in a particular country. President Obama can’t order businesses to build factories in Kolkata or Chennai. It just doesn’t happen.

But we do know this from several hundred years of experience: If India’s government delivers on its plans to support greater space for private initiative, if it creates greater openness for capital flows, if it limits subsidies that stifle competition, if it provides strong intellectual property rights, believe me, even more American companies will come to India. They may even race to India. And with a clear and ambitious agenda, we can absolutely help create those conditions.

So as we work with our trading partners around the world to advance trade and investment liberalization, India has a decision to make about where it fits in the global trading system. India’s willingness to support a rules-based trading order and fulfill its obligations will help to welcome greater investment from the United States and from elsewhere around the world. The greater transparency and accountability that Prime Minister Modi put in place during his time as chief minister tells us he has already provided a model of how raising standards can actually increase economic growth.

Now I believe the United States and India should continue to reach for the ambitious target that Vice President Biden laid out last summer in India, to push from 100 billion to 500 billion a year in trade. And whatever impediments we may face along the way, we need to always be mindful of the opportunities and the bigger picture around this. So it’s in our – excuse me. It is completely in our mutual interest to address those obstacles that kind of raise their head here and there as you go along the way and to remember that a lot bigger opportunities will come from more robust ties, so we need to keep our eye on the prize out there and not get dragged down by one small or lesser particular aspect of a restraint. The bigger picture has to guide us and the end game has to guide us.

If you have any doubts, just look at the opportunities that Ford is creating right now in India. They’re doubling production from plants in Gujarat and Chennai. They’re investing 1 billion to make India a global hub for exports. Take a look at the jobs that TATA is creating for Americans by expanding auto design and sales in the United States, adding to its 24,000 employees already in this country. Already, Indian investment creates close to 100,000 jobs right here at home.

And we also convinced – we are convinced that just as the United States and India can do more to create shared prosperity, so can India and its neighbors. Simply from the size of South Asia’s market – 1.6 billion consumers – and from India’s geography, sitting at the center of this dynamic Asian continent, the opportunities are leaping out at us. They’re just enormous. And just to underscore how untapped this potential is, consider this: South Asia is the least integrated economic region in the world. Fastest growing region in the world, Southeast Asia.

By strengthening trade links with Bangladesh, by building on the political opening in Burma, by increasing trade with the Asia Pacific and Southeast Asia, India can be at the heart of a more connected, prosperous region. So we are deeply committed to helping India grab ahold of these opportunities.

That’s why the United States is supporting an Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor to connect South Asia to Southeast Asia. That’s why we’re focused on investing in regional infrastructures and in the creation of a regional energy market. And that’s why we’re supporting new trade routes linking Central and South Asia with the New Silk Road Initiative. I mean this is – the possibilities here are gigantic.

Now clearly, Prime Minister Modi understands the opportunities that regional connectivity provides for India and for a more stable, prosperous region. And by inviting leaders from around the region to his swearing-in, and by bringing them together to speak about connecting their economies as one of his first orders of business, he is eager for India to play a leading role. And guess what? So are we.

Nowhere is that leadership more critical than in improving cross-border trade and relations between India and Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi took the important first step of inviting Nawaz Sharif to his inauguration. Both men are business-minded leaders who want to create opportunity for their people. I talked to Nawaz Sharif after his visit there. He was very encouraged, thought it was positive, possibilities he understood. So improved trade is a win-win for both countries and both peoples. And I know that there are plans for the commerce secretaries and foreign secretaries to meet in the coming weeks in order to build on that. I commit to you that the United States will do everything we can to encourage India and Pakistan to work together and improve the prospects for both prosperity and stability in the region.

Now India has already shown a deep commitment to regional stability with the generous investments in Afghanistan. At this critical moment of transition and in the coming months, support from all across the international community will be vitally important. In the coming days, I will continue to work closely with President Karzai, with the candidates, with the United Nations in order to provide Afghanistan with support during the transition. And we look forward to working also with India on this, and we look forward to India engaging with its neighbors so that Afghanistan’s connections to the region and the world are defined by the opportunity that they can create together.

Far beyond Afghanistan, India is assuming greater responsibilities for regional and global security. As India plays an increasingly global role, its interests are served by forging strong partnerships on a broad range of issues. Among South Asian nations and within international organizations, India should be a global leader. That’s why President Obama voiced his clear support for a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.

For several years, India has been a major partner in the fight against piracy in the Strait of Malacca and off the Horn of Africa. Even as we speak, India and the United States are participating in RIMPAC and Malabar joint naval exercises. Secretary Hagel will explore broadening our deepening – the deepening possibilities of our relationship with India when he travels there in early August.

Counterterrorism is also a challenge to both of our nations. The United States and India are continuing a very close partnership in that regard we began after the horrific Mumbai attacks, and then we began to train first responders in order to help protect our citizens. And President Obama was critical clear – crystal clear about the stakes for our counterterrorism partnership in his West Point speech in May. And our two nations have already provided one model of how these partnerships can work. Our collaboration on counterterrorism and real-time information sharing has helped us confront common threats and bring terrorists to justice.

But there is obviously room for us to be able to do more. When terrorist attacks took 400 Indian lives in 2013 alone, we know that the threat of terrorism remains too real and far too high for India’s people. Confronting terrorism requires our continued partnership and it requires continued vigilance. And it also means leading with our values. India and the United States are two nations that have worked hard to overcome our own divisions so that today we draw strength from pluralism and diversity. We’ve got to provide that example as we work to provide opportunity beyond our borders, addressing the conditions that allow extremists to thrive in the first place.

I won’t tell you where, but I’ll tell you I was with a foreign minister of a country in Africa recently, and we had dinner and we talked kind of candidly and openly as you can in that situation. And he said to me – I asked him about their Muslim population and what was happening. And he said, “Well, X percentage of our population is Muslim, and we’re very worried, because the bad guys have a strategy. They grab these young minds when they’re 13, 14, 15, 16. They pay them originally, and then when they get the minds, they don’t pay them anymore, they don’t have to. Then they send them out to recruit or conduct a mission. And they subvert the state. They have a strategy. Do we?”

It’s a prime question for all of us, and in so many parts of the world where 60 percent of the population is under the age of 30, 50 percent under the age of 21, 40 percent under the age of 18 and more in some places – if these people don’t find jobs and they don’t get an education and they don’t have opportunity and dignity and respect and a voice, then you know who’s going to grab them and say, out of frustration, “There’s a better way.” That’s part of our challenge and responsibility as great global powers, and that’s part of how we tame the most dangerous impulses of a more interconnected world.

One challenge that drives home just how interconnected and interdependent we are on this planet is this challenge of a lifetime called climate change. For millions of Indians, extreme weather and resource shortages are not future threats; they are here now. They’re endangering their health and prosperity and security every single day.

In India’s largest rice-producing region, West Bengal, the Monsoon rains have been 50 percent lower than average this year. This comes after the monsoons all but failed last year in several Indian states, helping to cause one of the worst droughts in a generation, affecting 120 million Indians.

In parts of northern India, armed bandits have imposed what amounts to a water tax, demanding 35 buckets a day. So believe me, it is not hard to measure the ways in which climate change every single day is already a catalyst for instability. I can show you places in the world where tribes fight over a well and people are dying because of the absence of water.

And while parts of India suffer from a once-in-a-generation drought, others suffer from – guess what – historic rains. When I arrived in India last summer, Uttarakhand was grappling with historic floods that killed more than 5,000 people.

So climate volatility is clearly taking a toll on India’s population. And so is pollution. Of the 10 cities in the world with the worst air quality, six are in India. Each year in India, the effects of air pollution cause nearly 1.5 million deaths.

So we know what the down sides are, but happily, guess what, we also know what the solutions are. And forging these solutions is a huge economic opportunity for both of us. The solution comes from areas where we already do things very well, where we’ve already made great progress, where innovation, smarter energy policy, and clean energy technology are already defining the future.

Let me just share with everybody – I reinforce this again and again whenever I get a chance. The solution to climate change is energy policy. It’s not some magical, unreachable, untouchable thing out there. It’s not pie in the sky. It’s energy policy. And where we put good energy policy in place, we reduce emissions and we begin to contribute to the solution. It’s a huge market, my friends.

I also remind people that the market that created the great wealth of the United States of America during the 1990s, which made Americans individually and otherwise richer than they’d ever been in American history – at the top end it made people richer than they did in the 1920s when we didn’t have an income tax, and every single quintile of American income earners saw their income go up in the 1990s. You know what that was? A $1 trillion market with one billion users. It was the high-tech computer, personal computer, et cetera market.

Today’s energy market is a – today’s energy market is a $6 trillion market now, with four to five billion users, growing to nine billion users over the course of the next 30 years, by 2050. Just think about that. It’s an opportunity for huge numbers of jobs, for transformation in the provision of our power, transformation in health, get rid – lowering the pollution, moving into the new energy sources, providing safety and security in energy so we don’t have instability. And I could run on in the possibilities, not the least of which our global responsibility to stand up for and leave a cleaner, better, more sustainable Earth to our children and our grandchildren. It’s a way of living up to our responsibility as stewards of the planet, which, by the way, is directed to us in every major scripture of every major religion.

Now, both of our nations pride ourselves on science and innovation. So the bottom line is this is up to us. It’s up to us to deliver. I know Prime Minister Modi understands the urgency. He’s called for a Saffron Revolution, because “the saffron color represents energy.” And he said that “this revolution should focus on renewable energy sources such as solar energy, to meet India’s growing energy demand.” He is absolutely right, and together I believe that we can at last begin a new constructive chapter in the United States-India climate change relationship.

The United States has an immediate ability to make a difference here, and we need to eliminate the barriers that keep the best technology out of the Indian market. And the United States can help India find and develop new sources of energy through renewable technologies and greater export capacity for liquefied natural gas.

Already, we’ve brought together more than 1 billion in financing for renewable energy projects. And with this funding, we helped to bring India’s first 1,000 megawatts of solar power online. But we need to build on the U.S. India Civil Nuclear Agreement, so that American companies can start building and can start providing clean power to millions in India. And we need to build on the $125 million investment that we’ve made in a Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center.

Prime Minister Modi has also made a commitment to electrify every home in India by 2019. With fewer limits on foreign technology and investment in India’s green energy sector, we can help make clean power more cost-effective and more accessible at the same time. We can provide 400 million Indians with power without creating emissions that dirty the air and endanger public health. And by working together to help an entire generation of Indians leapfrog over fossil fuels, we can actually set an example to the world.

So I readily acknowledge that today’s climate challenges did not start with India. And we know that the United States is the second-largest emitter of carbon in the world – the first now being China, who have overtaken us. But we also know that we can’t solve these problems alone – no one. They require partnership. And our partnership requires our leadership. By acting right now to reduce emissions, just as President Obama has done here in the United States, by investing in innovation, and by working together in the UN climate negotiations, we could prevent the most devastating consequences of climate change and meet this generational challenge.

Lastly, in this century, one that will continue to be defined by competing models of government, India and the United States have a common responsibility – we already have it; we share it – to prove that democracies can deliver for their citizens. Our two nations believe that when every citizen, no matter their background, no matter their beliefs, can make their full contribution. That is when we are strongest and that’s when we’re most secure.

So we are two confident nations, connected by core values, optimistic nations, never losing sight of how much more we can and must achieve. From women’s rights to minority rights, there is room to go further with our work together. And we also have to speak with a common voice against the violence against women in any shape or form that is a violation against our deepest values.

The United States and India are two nations that began both of their founding documents with exactly the same three words: “We the people.” By deepening our partnership, we can work together to deliver opportunity to all of our people and become stronger nations.

President Roosevelt, of course, described America as having a “rendezvous with destiny.” India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru spoke about India’s “tryst with destiny.” This can be a moment where our destinies actually do converge. And if we harness our capacity of our two nations, if we deepen our partnership, if we make smart choices, if we seize these opportunities, the United States and India can create a more prosperous and secure future for the world and for one another.

That is why I leave for Delhi tomorrow night, and that is why the President will welcome Prime Minister Modi to Washington in September. Because this is the moment to transform our strategic relationship into an historic partnership that honors our place as great powers and great democracies. We intend to leave not an instant behind us. We are going to get to work now. Thank you. (Applause.)

The President Presents the 2013 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal

Barack Obama's White House Presidential Office (D) posted a Video (YouTube) on July 28, 2014 | 7:41 pm - Original Item - Comments (View)
President Obama delivers remarks at the presentation of the 2013 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal, in the East Room of the White House, July 28, 2014.
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Udall Welcomes Bipartisan Deal on VA Reform, Cites Importance to Colorado Veterans

Mark Udall's Senate Member Office (D-CO) posted a Press Release on July 28, 2014 | 7:15 pm - Original Item - Comments (View)

Mark Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, welcomed the bipartisan deal today to improve accountability at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and provide veterans access to more timely, high-quality care. Udall said Colorado's veterans deserved better than the weeks of intransigence by some lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives who held up the U.S. Senate's bipartisan Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014.

'Our nation’s veterans shouldn’t have to fight for access to the timely, world-class care they have earned. Today's bipartisan agreement helps to meet this obligation and confronts the systemic failures within the VA that have broken faith with those who have served,' Udall said. 'Although this is a welcome development, these common-sense reforms have languished for weeks unnecessarily. Colorado's veterans deserve better, and we cannot allow partisan politics to obstruct necessary reforms.'

Udall has led efforts to resolve the systemic mismanagement at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and its facilities throughout the country. Udall also was the first Democratic senator to call on former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down following a preliminary report issued by the VA inspector general that outlined the systemic failures at the department. Earlier, Udall had pressed Shinseki to aggressively address the problems identified at VA facilities in Colorado and across the nation and to swiftly address the agency's lack of strong, public leadership.

Udall successfully worked to ensure Western Slope veterans had ready access to essential surgical procedures for which they previously had to travel long distances, he pressed the VA Inspector General to investigate employee complaints at the Grand Junction Medical Center, and he has led on congressional oversight of the Aurora VA medical center.

7/28/14: White House Press Briefing

Barack Obama's White House Presidential Office (D) posted a Video (YouTube) on July 28, 2014 | 6:48 pm - Original Item - Comments (View)
White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.
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President Obama Awards the 2013 National Medals of Arts and Humanities

Barack Obama's White House Presidential Office (D) posted a Blog Post on July 28, 2014 | 6:41 pm - Original Item - Comments (View)

This afternoon, the President and the First Lady honored the 2013 National Medals of the Arts and Humanities recipients at the White House. The President told the recipients that their "accomplishments enrich our lives and reveal something about ourselves and our country."

This year's recipients consisted of a diverse array of indidivuals and groups who have done groundbreaking work in the arts and humanities, including architecture, choreography, East Asian Studies, and documentary filmmaking – all of whom have made significant contributions to the human experience.

When we read a great book or experience a powerful documentary, we are often transformed – and these experiences can help us understand the world around us just a little bit better. The President illustrated what these experiences mean to those who witness the great work of this year's honorees.

"The moments you help create – moments of understanding or awe or joy or sorrow – they add texture to our lives," the President said. "They are not incidental to the American experience; they are central to it – they are essential to it. So we not only congratulate you this afternoon – we thank you for an extraordinary lifetime of achievement."

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Health Subcommittee Discusses Legislative Proposals to Prevent Insurance Company Bailouts, Protect Against Further Health Plan Cancellations

The House Energy and Commerce Committee (R) posted a Press Release on July 28, 2014 | 6:40 pm - Original Item - Comments (View)

UPTON: "Americans are rightfully concerned that this administration thinks it can simply ignore its own law."

WASHINGTON, DC – The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, chaired by Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA), today held a hearing to review legislative solutions to protect Americans from the president's broken health care law.

"Today's hearing is once again about protecting taxpayers and consumers from the consequences of the Affordable Care Act, namely an unlawful giveaway of taxpayer dollars to insurers under the ACA and another round of plan cancellations in the group market," commented Pitts.

"This law has already disrupted the health care peace of mind of millions of Americans. Americans are rightfully concerned that this administration thinks it can simply ignore its own law," added full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).

Subcommittee members discussed two bills introduced by committee members Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) to protect taxpayers from an illegal bailout to insurance companies: H.R. 4406, the Taxpayer Bailout Protection Act, and H.R. 5175, the Stop Illegal Payments to Health Insurers Act.

"There are two questions at work: does the law allow the administration to cover insurance company loses and are taxpayers going to have to foot the bill. Taxpayers need to be protected from more bailouts and we need to ensure that the sdministration is following the letter of the law.  I thank Dr. Cassidy for working hard to protect taxpayers and small businesses from a potential financial liability," said Lance.

Ed Haislmaier, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, explained the concerns surrounding the health law's risk corridor program. "Given the uncertainty that insurers faced in pricing the new coverage, combined with pressure on them from the administration to keep premiums low, the risk corridor program is more likely to result in additional federal outlays than in additional federal receipts. This is the source of the concern expressed in Congress and elsewhere that the risk corridor program could become a taxpayer funded bailout for insurers selling coverage in the exchanges."

Subcommittee members also reviewed H.R. 3522, the Employee Health Care Protection Act, authored by Dr. Cassidy. The bill would allow health plans available on the group market in 2013 to continue to be offered.

"The president and congressional Democrats promised many times during the debate of the health care law that "if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan.' Yet this past year, 93,000 Louisianans in the individual market lost the plan they had, specifically because of Obamacare. Clearly the president's promise was inaccurate," commented Cassidy.

Stan Veuger, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, explained that the broken promise that earned President Obama the "Lie of the Year" in 2013, was not confined to the individual market. The law's supporters spent fall 2013 arguing that "only 5 percent" of Americans faced the prospect of plan cancellations, but Veuger explained that millions of Americans who purchase health insurance on the group market could also face plan cancellations or major changes to their health care plans. "These plans cover some 25-30 million workers in the small-group market, about 75 percent of medium-sized firms (100-499 workers), which employ some 20 million workers, as well as about 20 percent of large firms (over 500 workers), which account for millions more."  

Last year, Upton championed the Keep Your Health Plan Act, which was approved by the full House of Representatives by a vote of 261 to 157. The Keep Your Health Plan Act was designed to allow plans available on the individual market in 2013 to be available in 2014.

"The House must now act to provide the same relief to businesses and their employees by passing my bill, the Employee Health Care Protection Act, which would allow the millions of workers in the group market to keep the health plan they like," added Cassidy.

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Empowering Africa's Next Generation of Leaders

Hillary Clinton's State Department Office (D) posted a Blog Post on July 28, 2014 | 6:31 pm - Original Item - Comments (View)

President Obama's town hall today with 500 of Africa's most promising young leaders provided an inspiring window into what the future holds for Africa, and the world.

The 500 participants in the Washington Fellowship program were selected from nearly 50,000 applicants from across Africa, as part of the President's Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). YALI was launched by President Obama in 2010, as part of a long-term investment in the next generation of African leaders. It aims to sharpen their skills, to improve their networks, and to strengthen partnerships between the United States and Africa for years to come.

The President announced during the town hall that the Washington Fellowship was being renamed as the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, in honor of the former South African President, Nelson Mandela. Mandela Washington Fellows represent the best and brightest from communities across Africa, and fields ranging from education, medicine, law, business, and beyond. These are the young leaders whose skills, passion, and visions for the future, will help shape the fate of their countries and the world. It is in everyone's best interest to help them prepare with the tools they need to build a healthier, more secure, more prosperous, and more peaceful Africa, which is why President Obama launched YALI in the first place.

President Obama also took today's opportunity to preview another historic event planned for next week. The U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit will be hosted in Washington, by President Obama, and will represent the largest gathering any American president has ever hosted with African heads of state and government. 

The President pointed out today, "even as we deal with crises and challenges in other parts of the world that often dominate the headlines; even as we acknowledge the real hardships that so many Africans face every day -- we have to make sure that we're all seizing the extraordinary potential of today's Africa, the youngest and fastest-growing continent."  

YALI is about capitalizing on the creativity and talent of Africa's young leaders by empowering them with the skills, training, and technology necessary to make lasting change, and meaningful progress back home. And to do so, we are engaging public and private sector partners to create new Regional Leadership Centers across Africa to reach more young leaders.  We're joining with American universities, African institutions and business partners like Microsoft and MasterCard Foundation. Starting next year, young Africans can come to these centers to network, access the latest technology, and get training in management and entrepreneurship. The first centers will be located in Senegal, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya --  and will provide tens of thousands of young Africans the resources they need to put their ideas into action.

As last year came to a close, the world said goodbye to one of the brightest lights the world has ever known -- President Nelson Mandela. His life was proof of the power within each of us to leave the world better than we found it. Yet, as that brilliant star dimmed, we now have the opportunity to see 500 more shine brightly this week.  

One of this summer's Fellows, Sobel Ngom from Senegal, captured the spirit of his experience in the YALI program this way: "Here, I have met Africa. The [Africa] I have always believed in. She is beautiful, young, full of talent, motivation and ambition."  And being here with all of his Fellow Mandela Washington Fellows -- learning together, working together, dreaming together -- has only strengthened his determination, he says, to realize his aspirations for his country and his continent.

About the Author: Valerie Jarrett serves as Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement.

Editor's Note: This entry originally appeared on the White House Blog.

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Delivering the Goods: A Labor of Love for UPS Driver Jay Valentin

Barack Obama's White House Presidential Office (D) posted a Blog Post on July 28, 2014 | 6:23 pm - Original Item - Comments (View)

Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Transportation's blog. See the original post here.

Like many Americans, when Jesus "Jay" Valentin – a UPS driver – goes to sleep at night in his New Jersey home, he's got a lot on his mind.

He thinks about tomorrow's deliveries and worries about what the traffic will be like and what the weather will mean for road conditions. He calculates how much next month's mortgage payment will leave his family – his wife Jenny and four kids – for savings. He wonders how he will pay for his daughter Tiffany’s college education – she’s 16 now and thinking toward the future.

Last Friday, I had the chance to meet Jay and some of his coworkers at the UPS hub in Secaucus, New Jersey. It was an eye-opener in many ways.

Secretary Anthony Foxx meets with UPS staff (1)

(Photo via the U.S. Department of Transportation)

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